As the US population ages, manufacturers of consumer goods are realizing that many customers may not be as nimble-fingered or sharp-sighted as they once were. To help product designers and engineers address those changing requirements, researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), Atlanta, have been developing evaluation methods and design techniques to identify and address the needs of all consumers, including those with functional limitations.
GTRI’s latest product is a pair of arthritis simulation gloves, which reproduce the reduction in functional capacity experienced by people with arthritis. The gloves are designed to help those responsible for consumer products better understand how arthritis affects a person’s ability to grasp, pinch, turn, lift, and twist objects.
"A product manager or designer can put these gloves on and attempt to open their company’s products or packaging," said GTRI principal research scientist Brad Fain, in a statement. "If they are unable to open a product or package, then chances are high that people with moderate to severe symptoms of arthritis will also have difficulty opening it."
The gloves can be used with a variety of consumer products, including medicine bottles, beverage containers, office supplies, medical devices, vehicles, cell phones, and more. They can also be used with many different types of packaging, including clamshell packages, cardboard boxes, cereal containers, and foil packages.
Three companies, including Kraft Foods, are using the gloves in-house.
The gloves were designed to reduce a wearer’s functional ability to grasp something and either pull or rotate it by 33 to 50%. They also stiffen an individual’s finger joints and restrict the range of motion of his or her fingers. To create the finger stiffness and reduced finger strength experienced by individuals with arthritis, the gloves were designed with metal wires between layers of neoprene and other fabrics.
In addition to identifying ease of use issues with products, the gloves are also intended to raise awareness about issues faced by people with disabilities and to support programs focused on ease of use in design. The Arthritis Foundation in the United States and Arthritis Australia are using the gloves for such educational purposes.
The gloves can be purchased alone, or as part of GTRI’s disability awareness kit, which also includes a low-vision simulation kit, a finger strength simulation kit, and a CD training program. The finger strength simulation kit consists of finger exercises that are calibrated to certain amounts of force recommended for packaging, and the training program teaches individuals how to use the gloves.
The gloves were created through funding by GTRI’s independent research and development program. For more information, visit http://www.gtri.gatech.edu/facilities/aef.